In Utah, when someone passes away, a personal representative must be appointed to represent the interests of their estate. Other terms for personal representative include executor and administrator. As a fiduciary, they are required by law to handle the estate’s affairs with loyalty, honesty, and good faith. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-703(1). Before they have the authority to lawfully represent the estate, the person wishing to be appointed must petition the probate court (District Court) and the court must grant the petition. In some cases the court may require a bond. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-601.
Eligibility and Responsibilities
Typically, the personal representative is nominated by the decedent in their will. However, under Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-203, if that person is not able or serve, then those eligible to serve also include:
- The surviving spouse of the decedent
- Beneficiaries named in the will
- Heirs of the decedent
- 45 days after the death of the decedent, any creditor
Once appointed, they are responsible for putting the estate in the position to be closed.
- Assume control of property. Taking control of estate property means that the personal representative must first figure out which property is part of the decedent’s probate estate. In some cases this is relatively straight forward. The decedent may have owned a home and its contents, a vehicle, and bank account. In other instances, it may be more complicated as the decedent may have owned multiple properties, had a full or partial interest in multiple businesses, and had other complex investments. They would then have to take steps to ensure that they have unfettered access to the property so that they can manage. It is important that the property remains properly insured and secure. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-708
- Inventory and appraise the assets. Within three months of appointment, a personal representative is required to prepare an inventory of assets. The inventory must include all property that the decedent owned at the time of their death as well as the property’s date of death value. If necessary, they are permitted to employ trained appraisers to help determine the worth of estate property. The inventory must also indicate if any of the property is subject to liens. Interested parties such as beneficiaries and heirs are entitled to a copy of the inventory if they request it. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-705.
- Pay estate debts. When someone dies, oftentimes they leave bills unpaid. Such bills may be associated with the upkeep of their home such as utility bills. It may be consumer debt such as major credit cards or store credit cards. It may be money owed to the government such as taxes or student loans. Contrary to what many believe, debt is not forgiven at death. It is still owed by the estate and must be paid before assets can go to beneficiaries or heirs. Thus, payment of the bills that the decedent left is a critical part of the process. Notice must be given to creditors that the estate is being settled and they must be given a date by which claims must be filed. Notice can be given by publication or by mail. Timely filed, valid claims must be paid, as long as the estate can afford to do so. Claims that are not filed by the deadline are forever barred. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-801.
If there are not sufficient assets to pay all claims, claims must be paid in this order of priority: reasonable funeral expenses; costs of administration; debts and taxes with preference under federal law; medical expenses related to the decedent’s last illness of the decedent; debts owed to the state of Utah; all other claims. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-805.
- Distribute estate assets. After debts and expenses are paid, authorization can be sought from the court to distribute assets. Asset distribution is based on either the terms of the decedent’s will or Utah’s law of intestate succession if there is no will. Utah Code Ann. § 75-2-101.
- Close the estate. The court will approve the official closing of the estate only after a verified statement has been presented to the court. The statement must confirm that the creditors’ claim period has ended, that debt and claims have been paid or otherwise settled, and that assets have been distributed to the appropriate people. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-1003.
Under Utah law, personal representatives are entitled to fair recompense for their services. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-718. Generally, the court will deem compensation requested fair unless an interested party objects. The court will then review the requested compensation to determine what would be reasonable based on the actual services rendered.